It’s January 2014: I had just gone through a breakup where the guy and I admittedly moved far too fast, and I should have known better. You see, until I was 24 years old I didn’t really know how to adult. After college, I played house for 2-years with a guy that was not right for me. After that, I was living out of a suitcase doing promotional marketing across the USA for snack foods and Coca-Cola, using my parent’s home as a virtual crash pad. Then I met someone cool and decided to put all my chips in that perhaps this relationship would be the one, only to have it end 5 months later.
On my way back to his apartment after work, he had already deleted our relationship on Facebook and untagged himself in every photo we had together. I only worked one mile from his apartment, so that was some stealth ninja shit. On top of this, he had written me a letter and a personal IOU check for a dresser we had bought at a mid-modern furniture shop together a few weeks earlier, tearfully he handed over the letter and watched me read it as my world crumbled beneath my feet. He sat silently while I collected my things and I drove 45-minutes away to my parent’s house, not sure what to do. I felt devastated at the time, but it was honestly the best thing that could have ever happened to me.
What goes from here is a journey of independence that I could not thank this guy enough for, even though it sucked eggs at the time. I got my own studio apartment in West City Park and began a new chapter of my life. At the time I was making far too little money to take care of myself, but I felt like a real adult, even if my parents had to help me.
At this point, I was 24. I had a job at a digital marketing agency, an apartment, and searing heartbreak from being dumped. After little to no thought involved, I decided that the cure for a broken heart was to fulfill my life’s fantasy and adopt a dog. I had always wanted a dog of my own. As a kid, I had memorized the AKC book my parents had and could pinpoint dog breeds like a superpower.
My sister and I had wanted a dog for years, and finally, when I was in middle school our prayers were answered. Our parents got our family a purebred Portuguese Water Dog named Rio. Rio was my dad’s shining star, and my mom’s companion while my sister and I were away at college; however, that dog was 100% my parent’s dog. When he suddenly passed away when I was a junior in college, my parents were devastated beyond measure and decided they would not be getting our family another dog anytime soon.
My sister ended up getting the cutest Boston terrier named Major, but she was in another state. There was no way I could get my puppy fix while the only dog was miles away. So, I scoured websites and adoption agencies for years daydreaming about getting a dog. When the timing was right, I decided it was time to pull the trigger.
I scoured Denver Dumb Friends League’s website day after day, and finally saw the dog I wanted a few weeks later. He had been at the shelter for almost a week, was 5 years old, and had one floppy ear. He looked desperate to get out of the shelter, but I would later come to find out that it was only snacks he was interested in. I left work early that day and drove straight to DDFL.
Instead of walking through the kennels I went straight to the front desk and asked to see Billy (that was his shelter name – undoubtedly the dumbest name for a dog). A couple right behind me made a comment about how that was the dog they wanted to see as well, and I thought to myself, ‘not if I have anything to do with it…’. The front desk receptionist asked me a series of questions regarding my lifestyle and home life, saying that the previous owner cited children as a reason he was relinquished. I didn’t have children or cats, so they let me see him.
I waited nervously in the holding room wondering if I was making a huge mistake. The shelter volunteer brought Billy into the room, and he immediately sat in the corner far away from me. He stared at me not sure what to think. The volunteer handed me a bag of treats and said, “You’re probably going to need these!” With that, she left the room, leaving this dog and me together.
I opened the treat bag, and his ears perked up. He was still sitting as far away from me as possible, but I held out my hand with the treat on it. He slowly approached me, snagged the treat and retreated back to the corner like Gollum. After a few more treats, he got more ballsy and sat in the middle of the room. Finally, after nearly an entire bag of treats, he was sitting next to me.
I still couldn’t tell if he liked me, but I figured he was scared. Being put in a shelter at 5 years old is probably terrifying, and I was scared too! This was a huge decision, and I wasn’t sure if it was the right one. The volunteer came back into the room and asked what I thought. I told her I wasn’t sure, and she promptly handed me another treat bag. It was as if she knew that this dog needed to go home with me, and she was hoping another bag of treats would convince us that we were a good match.
Bag of treats number two is when Billy’s personality began to shine. Every treat was a new trick. He sat politely, offered his paw to shake, he laid down, stood up on his hind legs, and gave me kisses. That’s when I knew I couldn’t leave him behind, and the couple behind me that wanted to see him seemed dreadful. So, without walking him, and without knowing anything really about him, I decided to adopt him.
The volunteer came back to help fill out our paperwork. While we were filling out the information, another volunteer came to take Billy to get a microchip. As they were taking him to the appointment room, he put his paw on the door and cried, giving me a look that I will never forget. It was a look as if to say, “don’t leave me!” My heart broke seeing that, which only intensified my reasoning for adopting him.
After we left the shelter, I drove to the nearest Petco. While at Petco, I was trying to rack my brain on what to name him. I had some ideas, but they were all about as bad as Billy in terms of names. I started calling out names to him to see if he responded to any of them, and when I settled on Murphy, his ears perked up. With that, I got his collar engraved with my contact information, and we headed home to my studio apartment.
I wish I could end the story here and say that adopting him was great, and it was all roses and rainbows; however, the next few years of my life became a complex web of fear that all rescue owners probably face. You never really know what happened to your pet before you adopt them, and you’re going to spend the rest of their life trying to undo the abuse and neglect that came before them.
In Murphy’s case, his intake sheet said that he liked other dogs and couldn’t be in a home with cats or kids. For me, that ticked all the boxes. I took the shelter’s word that he was dog-friendly. Fortunately, I learned my lesson on that very quickly.
Murphy was not dog-friendly, and I found that out within a day. What started out seemingly innocent began to really take shape a few weeks after adopting him. He would sneer at other dogs, and lunge when I was walking him. He even went so far as to bite a neighbor’s dog in the face, which scared me indefinitely. But it wasn’t just the dog-friendliness that was an issue because Murphy also loved to bark while I was at work.
I was able to reprimand this by a low-grade shock caller, which I felt horrible using. Murphy was quick to adapt and stopped barking relentlessly when I left in the mornings. The aggressiveness was a different story. I enrolled him in puppy classes at Petsmart, which he passed with flying colors. After that, his behavior improved.
While he was far more obedient, it intensified the bond between him and I and he felt he needed to protect me still from everything. Could you blame him? I was a single female living in a first-floor studio apartment. From my dog’s perspective, I was a weakling. Having a slightly aggressive dog proved problematic in dating, and it began to control my life. Murphy saw me go through four different soul-crushingly bad relationships before meeting my husband and didn’t warm up to any of them.
About a year after adopting him, I enrolled Murphy in Pavlov Dog Training courses because I wanted a better way to cope with his leash reactiveness. After 6 weeks of training, the only answer was to keep him away from other dogs and to always have a bag of treats on hand. Accepting that we would never be able to have a healthy relationship with other puppers, I made peace with that and decided to give Murphy the best life I possibly could.
It’s extremely hard to date in Denver when your dog is aggressive towards other dogs because every person seems to have one. Not to mention, men do not take kindly to an initial refusal to meet simply because they have a dog. In my mind, if they had a dog and we hit it off I was going to have to make a heartbreaking decision. Murphy is a special snowflake, but in a choice between my dog and a man I made a commitment.
I was always worried that my dog would never warm up to another person because so far that had been the case in dating. That all changed when I met my husband. It wasn’t a fast transition and it took a few months of my dog warming up; however, the wait was worth it. The difference with Scott and Murphy in comparison to any other relationship was that he was in it for the long haul. Scott genuinely liked dogs and invested in their relationship. By the time we had moved in together, Murphy was used to him. And while moving downtown was an adjustment for an older dog, it was an easier transition when I had a partner that understood his quirks.
It did not come without hiccups. On the first night, Murphy stayed over at his apartment, he inhaled an accidental floor jalapeno while I was making guacamole. That resulted in catastrophic diarrhea that Murphy was polite enough to spare the rugs and furniture with. I was mortified to clean up the mess on the floor and baseboards and thought for sure that Murphy and I would never be welcomed to stay over again. As luck would have it, Scott thought this was hilarious. We refer to this incident as Guacamole Gate, and he still teases me about it.
Overall, adopting Murphy was a dumb mistake but a rewarding one. We are very happy to have him in our lives, knowing very much that we have given him the best life he could possibly have. Four years ago today, his original owner decided to give up on him and drop him off at DDFL. Their misfortune became my greatest achievement. Murphy turns 9 today, as that was the day he was relinquished to the shelter. He will live out his life knowing he was loved and cared for, with all of the snacks.
If you are thinking of adopting a shelter dog, I highly suggest it; however, you should be prepared for the implications of previous neglect or abuse and be in it for the long haul to take care of the repercussions. They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, and that is slightly true in some cases; however, all behavioral issues can find a workaround.
2020 Update: Murphy crossed the rainbow bridge on May 9, 2020. We miss him very much.